Friesen: What NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman thinks is irrelevant, just ask him
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy, Bill Daly, bombed the city on Tuesday, touching on topics ranging from the late attendance of the Winnipeg Jets to the league’s black eye taken in the Mitchell Miller saga to the latest twist in the sordid saga of the Arizona Coyotes.
It was a typical Bateman/media exchange, where dealers got defensive at times, split hairs like a New York lawyer at others and, at one point, said what he had in mind was irrelevant.
Let’s start with the Jets, which isn’t what it used to be. The league’s smallest building—despite the temporary home of the Arizona Coyotes—usually has empty seats, something Pittman warned 11 years ago was not viable.
“Honestly, this is not going to do well unless this building is sold every night,” he said on the day Mark Chipman and David Thompson struck a deal to buy Atlanta Thrashers.
Recalling his words on Tuesday, Bateman downplayed the decline in crowds, noting the continuing reluctance to spread the pandemic, and perhaps the lack of workers downtown and the faltering economy as factors.
“I don’t think there is a problem with attendance,” he began. “I think this building could be full and it will be full again. I wouldn’t suggest there is a crisis here.”
Bettman added that he does not buy “for a minute” the idea that Winnipeg may not be able to support aircraft anymore.
Then he pulled out his salesman’s hat.
“I think the seven Canadian teams have the planes either the second lowest fare or the third lowest fare,” he said. “So it’s not really about anyone’s pricing. It looks like the best seats are for sale. We’re just going through a period of adjustment.”
The topic that received the most attention was the Miller disaster and how it was handled.
Apparently forgetting the talented defenseman who bullied and racially tortured his fellow student for years, the Boston Bruins signed up with Miller late last week, then paid for two days of PR before admitting they screwed him up and set him free.
Soon after signing, Bettman, working quickly to wipe the egg from the face of the league, announced that Miller would not be allowed to play in the NHL, in effect forcing the Boston team.
When asked how the league could approve the contract one day and make it null and void 48 hours later, Buttman donned his attorney’s robe and told the assembled jurors they might have been confused, and that having a contract and letting him play in the NHL are two different things.
A reporter (well, it was me) asked what went through his mind when he first heard that the Bruins had signed Miller.
“What I have in mind is probably not relevant,” he began.
I mentioned him as the NHL commissioner.
“Yes, I know,” he said, “and some things I like to keep to myself.” “Bill told them when he heard that they had decided to sign him that he would not be eligible to play… until we cleared him. In terms of the record, that is enough. My personal thoughts are not relevant.”
Bettman and Daly seemed to suggest that the league couldn’t actually stop teams from signing a player. But the powers of the commissioner allow him to prevent anyone from playing.
How the Bruins get out of the contract seems to be their problem.
Speaking of Commish’s power, have we seen a man go to great lengths to prevent a team from relocating as Bettman did with the Arizona wolf?
This franchise has been the financial line, front office and league ice for most of his time in the Grand Canyon State.
Driven from its yard by a city tired of its antics, the team plays in a 5,000-seat college arena, the latest laughable development in the desert.
When asked to describe the path of the tattered concession, Bettman dug his heels in the sand, once again, to get to the latest mirage on the far horizon.
“There was a difficult, and at times, unfortunate and unlucky encounter,” he said. We wish things were easier. But … once this building and development in Tempe is completed, there will be no problem at all for coyotes. “
He was laughing when he finished, so he probably had a sense of humor, after all.
At the risk of revealing ancient history, I had one last question, one I’ve heard from Jets fans throughout the Arizona disaster: Why didn’t Bettman work as hard to keep the team in Winnipeg as he did to keep them in Arizona.
“That’s a great question,” he said, kicking off a brief history lesson about how nobody wanted to own the team and there was no prospect of a new arena in Winnipeg.
“Perhaps some of you were still in school, or younger,” he said, at the beginning of the lesson. “I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
So do I, Commish.
And the lengths she went to in Arizona defies explanation.
Even from a trained attorney who can split hairs with the best of them.
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